This was originally published on HS2 and the Environment by Peter Delow. It’s a great blog and covers subjects in depth. Cubbington Action Group – of which Peter is chair – will be having a public meeting on 1st February at 19:30 Cubbington Village Halll. Details here.
Although it seems a long time ago now, I can still remember the fatigue and stress of spending hours virtually every day early last summer, hands almost glued to my computer keyboard and eyes aching from the strain of staring at my computer screen. The result of all this labour was the submission to the public consultation on HS2 by the Cubbington Action Group against HS2, which may be viewed here.
I took a great deal of trouble to research this document (as evidenced by the large number of references cited) and felt that it represented a fair critique of the HS2 proposals as presented in the Consultation document. It shames me to say it, but I was quite proud of it.
So was it worth all the sweat and tears? Well apparently not, because the Government appears to have taken very little account of my work and similar submissions by countless others, judging by what Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport, had to say when she gave her statement on the future of HS2 to the House of Commons on 10th January 2012 (Hansard transcript). She said:
“I weighed up the evidence after one of the largest public consultations in our history. We wrote to more than 172,000 people living or working near the proposed line from London to the west midlands, visited communities along the 140-mile route and held 41 days of roadshows attended by almost 30,000 people over the five-month consultation period. Almost 55,000 responses were received from individuals, businesses and organisations across the country representing a wide spectrum of views. Many of those views were expressed strongly both in favour of and against high-speed rail, and I have considered them carefully in making my decisions.”
And that was it! Fortunately the Department for Transport (DfT) is obliged to publish a report on the responses received; this report (here) has been written by a commercial analysis consultancy firm (Dialogue by Design) engaged by the DfT and HS2 Ltd. The report runs to over 230 pages, and I must confess that I haven’t yet read it from cover to cover! Comments that I am making in this blog are based largely upon the eleven page Executive Summary within the report.
I have also made use of a convenient single page summary of the responses to the seven consultation questions produced by Bluespace Thinking (here).
So what are the headlines that Justine Greening failed to report to the House of Commons (and us)?
Close to 15,000 responses were identified as part of “organised submissions”. The vast majority of these (12,607) were the result of one organised postcard campaign by Yes to HS2; many of these responses were anonymous. This represents 24% of the public responses. There were 1,747 such responses as the result of organised campaigns by anti-HS2 groups, representing 4% of the public responses.
Whilst there is, not surprisingly, a concentration of responses from individuals living along the proposed route, submissions were received, as the Transport Secretary rightly said, “from across the country”.
Members of the public submitted the great majority of the responses.
Despite what we have been told about the business community regarding HS2 as vital, only 429 businesses could be bothered to respond to the consultation; this represents 0.01% of the 4.5 million businesses in the UK. In contrast, the total public vote is ten times this (0.11% of the UK voting population).
The responses to the seven questions have been summarised by Dr John Savin in the histogram which is reproduced below.
On the key questions 3 to 5 (roll-out proposals, principles and specification and route choice) the majority against is clear, at around nine to one.
Ninety-five percent of those responding to Question 6 (Appraisal of Sustainability) with a view on the AoS expressed concerns that it was “insufficient”.
Eighty-three percent of the respondents to Question 7 (compensation) who expressed a view on the compensation proposals disagree with the options set out by the Government.
On the question of whether HS2 represents value for money, there is greater support for the Government but there is still nearly a two to one majority that disagree.
Finally, we come to the contentious Question 1 (case for enhancing the railways), which I am not alone in thinking was, at least, confusing and badly drafted and at worst deliberately designed to solicit a favourable outcome for the Government. If the latter was indeed the case, then the Government almost succeeded, but not quite; the responses was roughly balanced, but the dissenters still managed a four percent majority.
So, in view of the outcome, is it any wonder that the Transport Secretary chose not to elaborate on the results of the public consultation in her Commons statement?
But it gets worse for Ms Greening. Often politicians live to regret statements made on the record in the past and so it might be with Ms Greening. She is well-known for her opposition, on behalf of her constituents, to building a third runway at Heathrow. She is quoted on the Airplot website (here) – Airplot was set up to frustrate the Heathrow expansion plans by buying land – as saying:
“At every stage the Government has ignored public opinion and shamelessly ignored the grave environmental risk of expanding Heathrow. At every stage, residents have made their concerns and views against further expansion very clear. The battle to stop Heathrow expansion will continue because preserving our quality of life is so important. I have got involved in buying this land to very actively represent the views of my own constituents. If the Government will not listen in Parliament, then ministers will find they have to listen in the courts.”
So what is the difference between Heathrow and HS2? Perhaps it might be that Ms Greening was in opposition when the Heathrow plans were being proposed and now she is Secretary of State for Transport. I hope that any memory that she has of her words about Heathrow might at least bring a tiny blush to her cheeks, but I doubt it.
PS: There is a discrepancy between the body of the Dialogue by Design report and the Executive Summary. Under Question 6 the number expressing satisfaction with the report is given as “614” in the former and “6147” in the latter. The former figure has been assumed by Bluespace Thinking and Dr Savin; this assumption seems the correct one, as it is more consistent with other figures cited in the report.
Total responses to the consultation: 54,909
|Q1||Do you agree that there is a strong case for enhancing the capacity and performance of Britain’s inter-city rail network to support economic growth over the coming decades?|
|Do you agree that a national high speed rail network from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester (the Y network) would provide the best value for money solution (best balance of costs and benefits) for enhancing rail capacity and performance?|
|Do you agree with the Government’s proposals for the phased roll-out of a national high speed rail network, and for links to Heathrow Airport and the High Speed line to the Channel Tunnel?|
|Do you agree with the principles and specification used by HS2 Ltd to underpin its proposals for new high speed lines and the route selection process HS2 Ltd undertook?|
|Do you agree that the Government’s proposed route including the approach proposed for mitigating its impacts is the best option for a new high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands?|
|Do you wish to comment on the Appraisal of Sustainability of the Government’s proposed route between London and the West Midlands that has been published to inform this consultation?|
|Do you agree with the options set out to assist those whose properties lose a significant amount of value as a result of any new high speed line?|
N.B. Question 6 records as ‘Agree’ the number of respondents who appeared to be satisfied with the Appraisal of Sustainability, and as ‘Disagree’ the number of those who appeared dissatisfied.